Green shoots of recovery on the River Chelt – and lots of them!

It’s just over a year since we finished an ambitious project to realign a section of the River Chelt in Gloucestershire to improve its habitat value and make it more accessible to fish. I’ve been back to have a look how things are working out.

The Project

The River Chelt is a small tributary of the Severn. It rises on the Cotswold escarpment near Dowdeswell, flows through the middle of Cheltenham and joins the Severn at Wainlodes. Over its short length it changes from steep fast-flowing brook to a slowly meandering small river.

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The project was carried out about a mile from the Chelt’s confluence with the River Severn, just before it passes under the A38. The river had been significantly modified here to enable the operation of the now redundant Norton mill. It had been straightened to increase the flow velocity and a small weir installed (photo below). The weir presented a significant obstacle to fish trying to swim upstream, while the steep banks offered little opportunity for wetland plants and animals.

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During September and October of 2011 we realigned the course of the river to bypass the weir and straightened length. We created a new, meandering river channel, which would have been much closer to its original form, and a range of bank slopes.

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In bypassing the weir we opened up a further 6km of the river upstream to fish and a hectare of wetland habitat was created alongside the river.

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However, as you know,you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and I have to confess things did look a bit like a building site when we’d finished.

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What a difference a year makes

Our new section of river has received a number of good tests over the last year. Repeated bouts of summer and winter flooding through 2012 and 2013 resulted in some very large amounts of water being forced through the new channel and in some cases exceeding its capacity and spilling into its floodplain (as it was designed to do).

The speed of plant establishment and growth has been amazing. Not only have the many small trees we planted with the help of local volunteers settled in well, there is already a good variety of wetland plants along the course of the realigned river.

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It’s also very pleasing to see the diversity of habitat developing within the river. Areas of gravel and stones on the river bed should provide good spawning opportunities for fish while fresh silt deposits will be great for feeding birds. Part of the old channel was retained and now provides and excellent refuge for fish and insects.

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We’ll monitor the progress of the site over the coming years to see what species of plants, fish and birds move in, but the initial signs are very promising. Indeed, as if to prove the point, as we arrived a large egret which had been feeding along the river, flapped lazily away!

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Part of a much bigger plan

Our work on the Chelt is just one of hundreds of projects across the country aimed at improving our rivers. It’s all part of the plans to deliver the objectives of the Water Framework Directive which requires us to improve the health of rivers.

We’ve identified where the condition of rivers isn’t as good as it should be and the causes of the problems. There is a variety of issues affecting our rivers: man-made alterations to their shape and form (like here on the Chelt), obstructions like weirs, pollution from single point sources, pollution from run-off of chemicals, soils and nutrients, low flows and the presence of alien species. We’re working with partners to develop long-term plans to tackle them all.

Discover more in our interactive presentation: http://www.informsystem.com/livingwaters/livingwaters.htm

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Rooting out rod licence cheats

Last Bank Holiday weekend all our fishery bailiffs were out and about checking that anglers had got a rod licence. This is a short blog about why and how we do it.

Rod Licences

If you’re aged 12 or over and you go fishing for salmon, trout or coarse fish in England and Wales you need to have a rod licence. If you are caught fishing without a licence you risk a large fine and you could lose the fishing tackle you are using.

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Why is there a rod licence?

The first national fishing licence was introduced in 1992. Before this each nationalised water authority issued its own and anglers had to buy one for each authority area they fished (which was not popular!).

The principle behind rod licences is that those who participate in and gain benefit from the sport should contribute to the cost of maintaining, developing and improving fisheries. The Environment Agency has been given the responsibility for carrying out much of this work and the income we receive from rod licence sales funds a portion of it.

The main work areas which licence payers help fund are:

regulation and enforcement

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fisheries monitoring

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promotion and advice

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incident response and fish rescues

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stocking and improvements (such as habitat improvements, fish passes, fisheries development and improvement)

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We also provide advice to angling clubs, and last year we made over 2,000 site visits to give advice and attended 700 angling club meetings. To encourage new anglers into the sport we coached over 25,000 beginners at various events.

We can maximise rod licence income in two ways – by encouraging more anglers to participate and making sure all anglers buy a rod licence.

Rod licence checking

In the Midlands we have a team of dedicated fisheries enforcement officers. They are highly trained (in many areas to the same level as police officers), carry specialised equipment (stab vests, handcuffs, batons) and have a lot of knowledge and experience of angling. They are responsible for a range of enforcement duties – elver protection, salmon poaching, illegal fish introductions as well as rod licence compliance checks and enforcement.

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This year in the Midlands they will check over 14,000 licences. All our rod licence work is intelligence-led. This means that we target our patrols on areas we believe we are more likely to find people without licences.

Our intelligence comes from a variety of sources, such as the previous history of sites, specific tip-offs, surveillance and incident reports. This is all assessed by our crime analyst who then devises a programme of targeted activity.

All the reports we receive about illegal fishing are fed into this process so even if we can’t respond immediately they all help in building our intelligence picture.

Bank Holiday blitz

Last weekend in the Midlands we carried out 761 rod licence checks at 51 different locations across 11 counties. As a result we reported 76 people for offences. These reports will now be processed by our national enforcement team who will decide whether we recommend to prosecute individuals.

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The figures reveal that we reported offences on 10% of all checks. We certainly don’t believe that 1 in 10 of all anglers are licence cheats and think that it reflects the fact that we are successfully targeting high evasion locations. Indeed in a couple of targeted hotspots near Scunthorpe and Gloucester last weekend we reported 50% of all anglers checked!

We have many more operations planned for this year so please have your licences ready! Remember, if you haven’t had your licence checked it may be that you’re fishing in fairly compliant locations. If you know different tell us – you know who to call (0800 80 70 60)!

Rod licences – questions and answers http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/38081.aspx

Buy your licence online here http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/31497.aspx

Where your money goes http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Leisure/Annual_report_summary_-_final_-_combined.pdf

Gardening skills to help fish

On Tuesday 25th March representatives from eight angling clubs, from the Shrewsbury area and further afield, met on the River Roden north of Shrewsbury for a demonstration day of river habitat restoration techniques using large woody debris. The day was organised by Environment Agency Fisheries staff in conjunction with the Wild Trout Trust, with the aim of providing representatives from local angling clubs (and partners such as the Severn Rivers Trust) the opportunity to witness and take part in practical demonstrations of techniques, which they could then put to use in future back on their own stretches of river.

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Despite the weather the day was a great success, with 19 attendees treated to demonstrations of various techniques such as pleaching (hinging) of hazel / alder / willow / hawthorn trees alongside the riverbank and also the introduction of brushwood structures to margins of river.

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All techniques have the aim of creating dense cover for juvenile fish species. However, they also have the benefit of improving river bank protection by making it more resilient to erosion. Brushwood gathered from nearby coppicing work and recent storm damage was also utilised, whilst fixing methods included stakes and wire for bundles and also pinning trees with metal bars so they don’t dislodge form the riverbed.

The work will help to trap silt and clean the gravel on the river bed to provide improved trout spawning habitat.

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More habitat days are planned on the River Frome in Gloucestershire and River Leadon in April, again organised by our Fisheries staff and led by the Wild Trout Trust.

Events like these are made possible by the money we receive from fishing licence sales, buy yours here. http://bit.ly/Y0g6pO

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